There’s no denying it: Americans have a love affair with France. Freedom fries aside, it seems being French is a surefire way to pique American interest. For everything from dieting (Book: French Women Don’t Get Fat) to parenting (WSJ Article: “Why French Parents Are Superior“), it seems there’s been a book or article written about how the French do it better. It seems those two disciplines have made a happy marriage in Karen Le Billon’s new book on gastronomy for children, French Kids Eat Anything (April 2012, HarperCollins).
Le Billon, a Canadian francophile who married a Frenchman and moved her family to rural Brittany from Vancouver to experience how the French do things differently, shares an entertaining story; including a few gaffes along the way. She takes readers through an enticingly described small seaside village, and it’s difficult not to empathize with her as she tackles judgmental stares from strangers for letting her children snack, maneuvers the inner workings of the French school lunch system (which she continues to catalog on her blog), and commits the most cardinal of sins: interrupting someone’s dinner. She writes of her family with clear affection and enviable humor; the fights and struggles will sound strikingly familiar to any parent, as will the small victories and “ah-ha” moments. Her French husband provides the perfect foil, as sort of her “spy” from the other side of the culture divide, providing insightful advice whenever she finds herself frustrated or flummoxed.
In one example, she finds the school cafeteria serves a single four course hot lunch every day, offering no choice, and strictly forbids brown-bagged meals from home. Slowly finding herself converted to the idea after her year in France (spoiler alert: the family returns home to Canada) she finds the rigid méthode française a tough sell, even in multicultural Vancouver. True, she writes, French society is much more homogenous than the melting pot of cultures in North America (there is a brief mention of controversy over schools providing halal food for Muslim students, and a shrewd observation that nationalistic France is much less accepting of immigrants than Canada or the United States), and even more liberal North American readers might find the amount of bureaucracy and government involvement in nutrition and child-rearing intrusive, but Le Billion cheerfully explains that food is simply of much greater importance to the French, who wouldn’t dream of eating the over-processed, preservative laden food prevalent in American grocery stores.
Most importantly (and true to title) Le Billon finds herself in a world where French children happily eat (and don’t play with) stinky cheese and weird vegetables, and there appears to be an unspoken agreement between adults and children that neither will take up too much of the others time. Well-educated at Oxford, she clearly has done her research on food and families on both continents, and points to several interesting studies throughout the the text. For those DIY-ers and list enthusiasts, recipes and bullet points of each chapter are included at the end of the book.
While there is careful avoidance not to recommend wholesale conversion to the French way of thinking about parenting and food, Le Billon’s perspective as a lover of food and families with clear admiration for the best of both cultures leaves readers sharing her hope that a happy medium can be found for the enjoyment of all. The best books are those that inform, entertain, and inspire, and French Kids Eat Anything hits each of those bullet points superbly. Available in hardcover and E-Book from most major booksellers. Paperback due out Spring 2013.
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